Today, our series “The 3:16s of the New Testament” reaches its other bookend (the end if you’ve been reading along, the start if you’re looking at it once it’s done), as we look at Matthew 3:16, presented here in context with verse 17.
16After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17And there came a voice from heaven:
This story is also covered in Luke 3:16, which we covered two weeks ago. This week, though, I’d like to focus on the One who was baptized - Jesus. After He was baptized, the sky opened up, and God the Father was heard confirming Jesus’ identity as His Son; He also expressed his pleasure with Him. This happened before Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), and before the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). By allowing Himself to be baptized by John, He confirmed that John had been doing the right thing; He did the same thing that John had been telling the people they needed to do. So how do we find out who Jesus is? One of the best ways is to simply look at what He said about Himself, and what others said about Him.
First, Jesus said why He was here.
17"Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished."
This was one of the first things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, following the Beatitudes. This qualification was important for several reasons. First, Jesus said it - that’s a given, but it is a good reason nonetheless. Second, He was about to issue some pretty big clarifications to the law, and contradict some other teachings of the church of that day. He was letting His hearers know that what was about to come wasn’t meant to tear down the law, but to fulfill it. Third, this is early in His ministry. People may have only heard rumors about Him up to this point, and He wanted to make sure that these seekers and followers knew what He was about. Fourth, the current religious leaders were very strict legalists; they would react negatively to someone saying that the law was invalid. (They reacted negatively anyway, but that’s another story.) Finally, this lets us know, 2,000 years later, that everything we’ve read in our Bibles up to this point, the whole of the Old Testament through Matthew 4, is not null and void. Rather, He was the One who had been foretold. The law pointed to Him.
Jumping ahead, Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was.
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15"But you," He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
At this point, Jesus had been at His ministry for a good long time; and, although He was very popular, it’s almost like they weren’t really hearing what He was saying. John the Baptist had been jailed and beheaded; Elijah had been gone for thousands of years; Jeremiah had been gone for hundreds of years. Yet people seemed to think that Jesus was one of these men, other than the Messiah, as He claimed to be. Of course, we can’t be too hard on the casual observers - even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe Him when He said He was going to die. However, the disciples were sure of His identity. Simon Peter makes what is one of the most famous declarations of Jesus’ identity in response to His question. Peter had the right answer, and the term Messiah was key in his response. Jesus was the One who had been promised ever since man fell, just a few days after the creation of the earth. All of the sacrifices were simply pictures of the Sacrifice to come; and, God could have made the sacrifices last longer than they did, but He wanted them to be continually reminded of what was to come. It’s a shame that, by the time He did arrive, the Jewish religion had become more ritual than heartfelt. (Is our religion today any different? If it’s not, whose fault is it?)
We’ll finish this with one final statement from Jesus, which he said after arriving in Bethany and finding Lazarus had died.
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.”
Fulfilling the law is good, and being the Messiah is great, but this is the awesome result of that! I’ve written in depth on this wonderful news when we looked at John 3:16 and Romans 3:16, so I won’t write a whole lot here. I will point out, though, the center of the verse, where Jesus very succinctly says who may obtain this eternal life - anyone who believes in Him! That’s it - it’s no more complicated than that. If you have not accepted this free gift of His, and would like to know more details about how you can accept this gift, please read God’s Simple Plan of Salvation - it explains, in detail, our need for a savior, and how Jesus fills that. If you have accepted Christ, rejoice in Who has claimed you for His own. He gave His life so that we could live with Him forever - praise God!
We’ve all heard certain phrases throughout our lives. “History repeats itself.” “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (This seems to also be a warning to high school students everywhere.) “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” These phrases all point to the phenomenon of people doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the outcome.
In today’s Scripture, the author of Hebrews reminds us that it was the people who knew the truth and even experienced it - the Jews - who rebelled against God. And rebel they did! In three straight chapters in Exodus, the children of Israel complained and rebelled against Moses.
23They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water at Marah because it was bitter - that is why it was named Marah. 24The people grumbled to Moses, “What are we going to drink?” 25So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he threw it into the water, the water became drinkable.
He made a statute and ordinance for them at Marah and He tested them there.
2The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”
4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. This way I will test them to see whether or not they will follow My instructions.”
2So the people complained to Moses: “Give us water to drink.”
“Why are you complaining to me?” Moses replied to them. “Why are you testing the Lord”
3But the people thirsted there for water, and grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you ever bring us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
4Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with these people? In a little while they will stone me!”
5The Lord answered Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take the rod you struck the Nile with in your hand and go. 6I am going to stand there in front of you on the rock at Horeb; when you hit the rock, water will come out of it and the people will drink.” Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
But, surely, once they get to the promised land, the Israelites will remember God’s provision, right? Well…
1Then the whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night. 2All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron, and the whole community told them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness! 3Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and little children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4So they said to one another, “Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.”
5Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces [to the ground] in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community. 6Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to the entire Israelite community: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. 8If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us.”
It’s easy to look back at the failings of the Israelites, and point fingers at them. But, aren’t we the same? Don’t we do the same foolish things over and over again? It’s easy to see how other people don’t learn from their mistakes, but it’s often more difficult to see our own. Even if we are aware of our failings, though, we still have the inner conflict between the old, selfish nature and our new holy one. Paul expressed this sentiment in Romans 7…
14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. 15For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21So I discover this principle: when I want to do good, evil is with me. 22For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. 23But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.
So what is the solution? Later in Romans, Paul gives us the answer.
1Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
As gold is refined, it is heated to the melting point, and its flaws are literally burned out. I’m pretty sure that if the gold could talk, it would tell us that it doesn’t particularly enjoy this process. However, the result is a more pure precious metal. This is how God works in a Christian’s life; He brings challenges into our lives to mold us into His image. Some of these challenges are external, but some are internal. We must give this to God, and trust Him to work His will in our lives. Will we fail at times? Of course. Does that mean would shouldn’t try? Not at all!
We have been entrusted with the truth. May we surrender our lives to it, and trust God to use the circumstances in our lives to mold us into His image. May we learn through each of our mistakes, and may God give us the power not to repeat them.
John is reminding the recipients of his letter that Jesus provided the ultimate example when it came to love. He gave everything for us. But one of the most amazing parts of His sacrifice is that it was just that - a sacrifice. No one took Jesus and killed Him against His will. In fact, Jesus mentioned in John 10:17-18 that He would lay His life down willingly.
17This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.
Jesus’ sacrifice is truly our example. But, if we were saved, and then died for someone else, there wouldn’t be very many Christians around! Giving up our lives is noble, and there are many who have done that for others - military people, police, and firefighters risk that and often make that ultimate sacrifice for their fellow man. But rather than put our lives on the line, this should remind us that anything God asks us to do less than that is really no trouble at all. Laying down our lives can just mean giving up something of ours for the benefit of someone else.
13No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.